An orderly struggling with a leashed, frothing-at-the-mouth subject passed by the trio of researchers. Said subject, upon sight of the one with soda-washed irises, snapped at him, spitting curse words at his direction. The doctor looked the other way as they followed the lead researcher through a narrow passage to the control room.
Behind them, in perfect unison, two lean, malformed former humans in a peculiar combination of clinical robes and combat armor paced methodically along. Save for their eyes, which would abruptly dart from side to ceiling in panic, they seemed sedate and well-tamed.
The lead researcher punched in digits and opened the door. Both men behind him stared at the view beyond the control room's observation panels. Stretching hundreds of meters, Base personnel scattered busily below along neatly marked pathways divided by cubicles. Guards were posted at adjoining areas, marked 'Research A' to 'Research D'. There were workstations lined in a square around a projection screen showing a naked human with long hair, large hands, and bony thin arms and legs.
The Trithiton Commune research and development sector of Base Five-Four, roughly a thousand feet below the actual base.
"Welcome to your next assignment. This is the Commune, gentlemen. The administrator of this cell appreciates the donations received from your leaders at Six and Nine. As part of our exchange project, your expertise is highly needed for our Subjects." The lead researcher said, his eyes trained beyond the sector.
At the opposite side, a large entrance to an adjacent room stood. A sign was posted above it. Single arrow said Forward Observation Sector. Double arrows said Containment Sector.
"Two rooms ahead, you'll meet the Commune. The Entities we've trained are psionic, so take the canceling equipment the guard gives you at Forward." The lead said, meeting nods from both underlings. "Orders at your desks, which can be found at Housing. Block to the left."
"Anything you'd like to say?" The lead asked.
Dr. Martin Caduceus, Beta-class psychiatrist, queried. "How many subjects have you captured and retrained here?"
The lead researchers's brows raised. "Forty-three. If you stress 'retrained', I'd put it at eighteen. The last handful had been tested resistant to our previous psychiatrist's suggestion techniques, and they went amok with their psi around the sector." The lead stared at Martin dead in the eye. "Which is why we need a new one to replace him."
Dr. Martin evaded his look and nodded once.
Dr. Elijah Strosswelt, Gamma-class technician, then asked his question. "What is the condition of their current psionic treatments? Will I be needed on standby during Protocol Lanun?"
"Considering their pacifism and abhorrence to artificial enhancement, we have allowed them to retain their Commune's original implants. Our tech doesn't seem to link to their collective mind like theirs does. Your task is mainly to help develop a better way to farm their psychic energy into our special reservoir… And no, we have trained technicians for Lanun. We won't need to risk any unnecessary lives, unlike Six's personnel policies." The lead gave a brief, knowing glance to Martin.
The man folded his arms. "No more time for chatter. Pick up your orders and get briefed for your first meeting with the Commune in two hours." He left without another word, the two large Illogicals following him shortly. The control room whirred open, and closed again.
Elijah put his boots by the bedside, loafing from his desk to lie down on the shoddy bed, reading the checklist. A subject was subdued, and needs to be taken from the Commune's compound and strapped on a testing bed over at Testing. His first assignment was to assist in testing how the new canceling tech would block the Commune's link, and then extract the implant afterwards.
Reading from given notes, he noticed no specification for noise-cancelling material for the tech. Without it, from experience, a psi-user's screaming would go on to the next room, within earshot of the rest.
There were secondary tests. Elijah knew that, and this next one was to test the Commune's fear. While he wasn't particularly knowledgeable of the Trithiton Commune, he read the dossier. He knew that Five-Four had had trouble with subjugating them, lowering them to the will of the Insurgency. The Commune was a group of humans with low-level psi that share a mind link with each other. They had an affinity for science, could take apart and put back together machines like toys, and one member could speak through another.
Up till now, Base Intel stressed they don't know where the hell they come from. They were found in a cave system in the Rockies, when one scouting agent had reportedly sunk to his knees and spoke to a 'giving goddess', but there have been no leads to their affiliations with any interest groups. Not Serpent. Not Cogs. Not Terra nor Fifth.
Nothing was of interest except for the four-feet crystalline monolith the tribe worshipped.
All notes considered, Elijah was assigned to a group of hive-minded hippies. Again.
Yawning, he rose from the bed to get out of his room. Scratching his back, he turned left from the door, running into Dr. Martin, who was nursing a mug of tonic food drink and a very tired look on his face.
"Hey, man." Elijah greeted. Martin blinked for a second before replying with a "yo, guy". To which Elijah paused.
Martin blinked again. "Oh, it's you. The other guy from Base Nine. What do you need?"
"Whoa, man, you look tired. What, we've been here for an hour and a half?"
"Ah, it was the flight from Six. Busy week. Anyway, I'll need to cut this short. Medical needs me to interview personnel from an incident." Martin waved as he passed the technician. Elijah noticed a vague, fleeting smell of jackfruits as the doctor left.
"The cancellation headpieces are remote-activated from Control. For the remainder of this session, do not remove your headpiece. You are now resistant to the Commune's effects. Communication is allowed."
"Thirty seconds to opening." The lead researcher said through intercom.
Elijah stared at the buzzing metal bands around the back of everyone's heads. Every researcher and security guard was wearing it, each headset giving off the same, harmonious buzz. With about a hundred heads inside, the sector sounded like an angry beehive. He couldn't help but see a metaphor for the Insurgency in there.
Peering at the far side of the room, Elijah saw Dr. Martin. He looked closely and noticed the doctor didn't have a headpiece with him.
"Ten seconds to opening." Elijah snapped back to attention. He didn't know Dr. Martin until they met at the waiting lobby at noon, four hours ago. He was a surgeon from Six. Or a psych. He acted off, though. Always shortened or downright avoided conversation. Stared at the floor a lot.
"Entrance opening. Trithiton Commune Containment Sector now cleared for access. Got an hour, everyone." The lead researched announced.
The blast door opened slowly. As everyone's eyes adjusted to the light inside, Elijah caught his first sight of the Commune up close, and promptly felt something wrong in his gut as a mass of naked flesh murmured and disjointed into a multitude of limbs and bony forms to the farthest corner, leaving a few of their kind frozen in terror up center.
The few left behind were two females and three males, each covering the other's genitals and looking guiltily at the handful of researchers and clean-up officers as they went about in the chamber, collecting data, taking photographs, removing wastes. Elijah himself was frozen, not moving from the Forward sector, until he came to and realized he needed to find the subdued Commune member.
Elijah looked around. It was more like a human zoo, this Containment sector. The floor had a polished shine, but there were patches of hair, dust, and of course blood. He saw the glowing pink pillar "goddess" at the center of the sector. Peculiarly beautiful. Adorned at its feet were leftover food rations.
He was momentarily shocked as he went near the huddled group at the center. He felt a tug at his pants. He looked at them. They seemed worried, though they haven't spoken yet (do they even speak?). The elder male pointed at a form at the discipline station nearby, where the incapacitated Commune member was, being hit by an officer before being dragged outside.
The thing looked at Elijah. Its lips felt like they wanted to speak.
He looked again at the elder. These people looked primordial. Hairy, and malnourished, and very stressed. He could hardly believe they'd know how to repair technology, much less comprehend it. He took a knee to examine the elder up close, and nearly yelped at what he saw next.
The five were joined together from the head by cables made out of skin, looking like umbilical cords that periodically pulsed with purplish-blue light inside. A single, fat, wrinkly cord connected them to the rest.
Elijah was about to decide to leave the chamber, when he was ordered to do so. "New guy," another researched called out, "get over to Testing and work the coils, will you?" Elijah nodded, and ran out.
"Boss, we need to talk." Elijah said, putting down his dinner tray and sitting opposite the lead researcher (who felt bloated and itchy and didn't want to be eating) from the control room.
"Not the boss, man. Name's Samuel, by the way. What's bugging you?" Samuel said, playing with the raisins on his porridge.
"The dossier on the Trithiton Commune states that they are a pacifistic, sophisticated, and technologically-adept human subspecies which share a beneficial human mind link with each other and whose psi is harvested for the Insurgency's own use." Elijah recited from memory.
"And you're wondering why you saw a retarded sub-human petting zoo."
"I, uh-…. well, yes." Elijah said, confused.
"They're deceiving you. You haven't been around enough for them to get used to you. Run a couple of tests, actually stay for a few minutes, unlike that half-attempted escape you did this afternoon. They'll show themselves." Samuel said, grinning knowingly at Elijah. He didn't know that Samuel had seen him deliberate.
"But…" Elijah replied, "what do you mean, 'deceive me'? Is that part of their psionic abilities? If so, shouldn't the cancellation tech block those out? Or is it a biolo-" He was interrupted by Samuel standing up, taking his dinner tray.
"That information is above your pay grade, man." Samuel said. "Talk when you need anything important. If you have nothing, you've got work to do instead."
Later that night, Elijah sat at his desk, typing the report for the results of the new cancellation equipment.
BASE FIVE-FOUR (30-250-2000016)
Psi-Cancellation on "Trithiton Commune" Subject
TECH REPORT ON SUBJECT 31 APPLICATION:
Upon activation of Cancellation Tech with Anomalous Components, psi-screen materialized around subject with >2m diameter. All psionic transmissions emanating from Subject had difficulty penetrating barrier at initial testing. Reportedly no connection felt by Commune subjects in Containment Sector. Energy output for Tech fully compensated due to psi gathered during subsequent extraction of Subject 31's communal implants. Implants stored for further testing.
G2 | Testing Technician
Sighing, Elijah retreated from the computer terminal for a moment, stretching his arms. It was late, and he had maintenance duty eight o'clock tomorrow. He rose from his seat, rested his field notebook to his side and slept, somewhat timidly, as he heard the rest of the site's noises lull him to dreamland.
"You need to scrub the bloodletting station clean from previous testing. Rags and cleaning supplies are at the Forward base. I also want you to update the sector terminal with these programs." A burly, fat man (named Nurac Sulkihed) in a coat said, handing over a USB drive, calling to attention Elijah, who found himself staring at the goddess pillar.
Elijah nodded, took his bucket and went to the receptacle. He was the only one in the sector. The Commune on his path scattered upon sight of him like hunted monkeys. He went over to the computers and transferred the programs.
He was about to exit when some of the Commune caught his eye. He noticed that, aside from the nerve cords connecting them, each member was wearing a metal band screwed crudely around their head, too, only it glowed and was maybe helping their mind link. One appeared unhinged and offline. Elijah considered reporting it, but screwing it back on felt trivial. He knelt down, and in a lowered, cool tone, spoke to the subject.
"Take it easy… I'm only here to help you, okay?" He soothed, lightly nudging the thing's head. He inspected the damage, and produced a screwdriver from his satchel.
"Don't fix… These things… are useless." The thing spoke in a hushed, wary voice.
Elijah's brows furrowed. The thing talked. Perhaps he was gaining their trust after all, like Samuel had said.
But what did it mean by 'useless'? Was this psi-link broken?, Elijah thought. Was this another twisted disciplinary action? What was it trying to do? Before Elijah had time to further interrogate the subject, he heard a sharp, hollow sound click behind him. The Illogical gripped his wrist firmly, and escorted him outside.
The fat man leered at Elijah. "Refrain from spending excess time in the Containment Sector, Technician. We run a tight ship here." (The fat man was bluffing. It was his third coffee break, though nobody knows.)
Elijah dragged his feet along the Housing sector's hallway. It was late in the afternoon, and he had time off to nap and read a book before the night shift. He had regretted not taking the earlier Containment clean-up. It might have saved more time than being in another psi-screen test.
And it may have given him another chance to converse with the Commune. The fact they could talk intrigued him, and was a sign that real testing could start.
As Elijah rounded a corner, he passed along Dr. Martin's quarters.
The door was shut, but Dr. Martin's voice filled the room, and Elijah could faintly listen to him.
Elijah could hear Caduceus talk with someone on the phone. There was an obvious worry in his voice. He couldn't make out much, but one line was clear.
"Matthias, how's Bert? Is she feeling better? Fuck, I can't get there soon enough. Can she still…? Oh, tell her I am so sorry…"
Bert? Elijah's eyebrows raised. Huh. Learned something new.
The door slid open, and out came Caduceus, slipping the phone in his pocket. The news broadcast showing on Caduceus' TV loudly resonated out and around the halls. He glanced angrily at Elijah. "What do you need here?"
Elijah didn't know what to say. He choked on his own spit before he could answer, but Caduceus had lost interest by then. "Just keep to your own business." He said before leaving Elijah.
The door closed shut, and the noise from the TV fell silent beyond the room.
Weeks went by, and Elijah soon settled into his role as a technician in Base Five-Four.
Though the incident with the headband had still piqued his interest, work picked up quite suddenly and he hadn't found time nor energy for questionably unauthorized interaction with the Subjects. An imminent visit from the Cell Director also prompted tighter work schedules for the Base.
He had noticed the Subjects becoming increasingly lethargic lately. As if they were the starkest of specimens to begin with, but a few haven't eaten in days. With the visit coming soon, the Commune would have to be whipped back into shape if they were to secure continued funding. The testers would probably do so literally.
Elijah fixed the display screen outside Subject 6e1's cell, ignoring the lava woman's rage (actually a cry for help to fix the magma vents). He could hear her yelling curses even with a soundproof barrier around her cell. She'd have to act useful as well when the visitors arrive.
"Elijah! Just the man I wanted to talk with." Samuel eased his dinner tray onto the mess table. "Your schedule has been cleared for the night. I need you on another project."
The technician replied with a nod. Samuel straightened his tie and explained. "As you know, there is a visit from Command coming, and we are going to initiate Lan-".
"There's a gap in the roster. A technician fell off a ladder and had to be treated for injuries. You want me on Protocol Lanun tonight, yeah?" Elijah said, offhandedly.
A smile crept up on Samuel's face (it was fake). "Very perceptive, Technician. You seem to have adapted well to our workload."
Elijah couldn't help but agree. Since he arrived, he had developed a keen sense of knowing exactly what his colleagues wanted from him. It didn't bother him, but it did bother his peers when, at first glance, he could deduce the circumstances and motives Research wanted him to fix a station, or why Testing needed another inspection.
Of course, Elijah thought about how it developed, but more so did he think about how he could use it to his advantage.
He pressed his temples and breathed in. "You have free time in your office thirty minutes from now, right? Good. Give me a moment, right?."
He rose from his seat and left wordlessly.
Then, half an hour later, Elijah sat in front of Dr. Samuel (Samuel Bornshoff, fourth son of his family) at his office, a sheepish expression on his face.
He had never thought to ask what Protocol Lanun was in the first place.
No one could blame him. It was above his clearance then. He knew it had to be done while the Containment sector was on lockdown. It needed a certain degree of secrecy during the procedure. And an iron stomach. Elijah didn't have the latter. "Just tell me what I need to know so I can prepare my things." He told Samuel.
Samuel scoffed. "Are you sure you don't already know, Elijah?" He tapped his finger on his temple as a sort of gesture to the technician. Clearly, Elijah had something.
Elijah's eyes narrowed. He shook his head. "You're right."
Samuel raised an eyebrow.
Elijah stammered. "I mean, well, no. But I know what you're up to."
He told an amused Samuel Bornshoff (former mining contractor of Greenwill and a father of two children) about how he occasionally felt like he was probing someone's mind. Experience little details and extract tidbits of information from them. He told the middle-aged doctor from Oklahoma that he couldn't stand being near Containment, since it felt like he got headaches the more he went there.
At the end of it all, Elijah secretly picked up that Samuel was involved in drug trafficking before he entered the Insurgency, recently traveled to Berlin, and was involved in a "Manassas" program.
"Have you been experiencing any auditory or visual hallucinations lately?" Samuel (actually Samantha) asked.
Elijah nodded. He saw Samuel squint at him suggestively.
The idea hit Elijah then. Of course. He had been developing anomalous abilities. A slight sense of telepathy. This was to be expected.
But what had been the cause of this? Was it exposure to the Commune? Why wasn't the headpiece capable of preventing that?
A red bulb to Samuel's right lit up. "It's time. Proceed to the sector and I'll answer those questions you just asked yourself."
Elijah stared at the doctor.
"Yes, of course I'm like you. Why do you think I'm the Head Researcher otherwise?"
The whole room was painted in a deep, dark red light. The shrill, screeching cries of the Commune was silenced one by one by cattle prod-holding agents, beating them back into cages where they were separated from each other. Once they were isolated, scores of 'living' hooks and cables latched or entangled themselves around their bodies and sapped into the rich psionic energy inside their heads.
Elijah was appalled.
"Turn your cancellation equipment off. Take it off your head and let everything sink in."